The Importance of De-loading

If you’re someone who trains day in and day out, every week for months throughout the year, sometimes you’ll find yourself hitting a brick wall.

You’ll train and eat like usual, but find you can’t increase the weights you’re lifting – or, even worse, your performance is decreasing. This is often caused by high levels of fatigue which will prevent you from making progress long-term. It’s a common mistake, even among people who have been training for years.

When you find that your progress is slowing, it isn’t due to your fitness decreasing! This is actually your body asking you to take a rest from exercise, as it has been pushed to its limits.

Take a recovery week – also known as ‘de-loading’ – to help recovery and to improve your overall training performance. During this week you can still exercise but shouldstay at a lower intensity to allow your muscles to completely repair. This is essential to strength training, as not only will your muscles completely repair, but your hormone levels will return to normal and your central nervous system will rest. In many sports, this is known as ‘tapering’. Professional athletes will often taper in order to make a full recovery, allowing them to compete at their best.

Who Should De-load?

As you begin to train more, your body will begin to require a de-loading week. When you are first starting out, only training one or two times a week, or working on the basics of your core exercises, it’s unlikely that you will need to de-load. As a result, people who are starting off or only train at the weekends won’t have to worry too much as their bodies have the time to recover.

On the other hand, those who train more regularly (5+ times a week) and often lift heavy on their compound movements, e.g. benching, deadlifting and squatting, will need to take de-loading periods. By doing so, they’ll be able to continue making progress without the impact of fatigue and overtraining.

If you intend to compete in a particular event such as a powerlifting meet, a triathlon or half marathon, then a de-loading week is crucial. You must de-load before your event otherwise you will feel fatigued, which will prevent you from competing to your best ability and increase the potential for injuries.

How to Effectively De-load

A common misconception with de-loading is that you have to take a week off from exercise. This is not the case. Although taking a complete break from training does have its benefits, by de-loading you are training ‘lightly’ for a week, or taking weights off the bar on particular weeks in order to prevent overtraining and fatigue.

There are a wide range of ways to de-load your personal training routine in order to relieve some of the stress your body is undergoing. You can do any of the following to effectively de-load, with each having their own benefits:

  • Decrease the number of sets you are completing
  • Use a lighter weight for certain exercises
  • Decrease the number of reps completed
  • Increase the rest periods between sets
  • Decrease the number of training days
  • Decrease the overall time under tension

When creating a programme either for yourself, or for a client, it’s often a good idea to create programmes that last around 6-8 weeks. During this time period you can allow for higher volume training weeks, followed by weeks in which the overall volume is decreased. This allows for sufficient recovery without the risk of overtraining.

Important Things to Note

  1. When you are taking a de-load week, this does not mean you can take a week off training. Unless you are nursing an injury or feel one coming along, then a light training session will have more benefit than a rest day altogether. Go with how your body is feeling and you will continue to train at your peak.
  2. Make sure you enjoy your workout. A de-loading week is a fantastic opportunity to try some new exercises that you do not include in your own training programme. Find something that takes you out of your comfort zone, go to a yoga or fitness class. This is a great way to recover whist still having fun.
  3. Make sure you eat, sleep, and recover! During your de-loading week, you’re not losing any progress and often resting is the best way to help your body recover. Make sure you eat healthy foods and stick to your nutrition plan. This will help your progress after your week, and lead to success in the future. A de-loading week is a good time to focus on recovery, go for a massage, complete some foam rolling or discover the benefits of another form of light exercise you don’t normally include in your training.